Moving Pictures
Sep 30, 2010, 08:52AM

Out of Many, Nothing

The Fall's freshest TV shows all make head-fakes at plausible narrative—that's about it, though.

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Summer television is, by default, terrible. Fall is supposed to be the season of hot & new & fresh television and Deadly Serious Films that are going to win awards. Unfortunately, this fall lineup has less staying power than a Katy Perry hit (much less, if “Teenage Dream” is to be believed), specifically the three newcomers lauded as heavyweights: Outlaw, The Event and Lone Star.

Outlaw, starring Jimmy Smits (the Matthew Vicente Santos of The West Wing—yes, I creepily relate everything back to that show) pushes a plot that involves a hard-right Supreme Court Justice (either Justice Samuel Alito or Justice Antonin Scalia) who, lo and behold, sees the actual light of justice and decides to leave the bench to go defend some poor saps. And gamble. And bed women in hot tubs.

It’s a legal show without much of anything in the way of the law; the pilot gives you a glimpse of the Supreme Court, but it’s quickly supplanted by scenes of Smits and his team of attractive & geeky & brilliant misfits running around the country. The show tries to be bold: the second episode parachutes into the controversial Arizona immigration legislation. A white officer shoots an unarmed Latino after the latter refuses to show identification. Smits makes the bold and unexpected move of defending the cop; he needs to prove to the world (and his progressive icon of a dead father) that he can convince a jury full of Latinos that the cop wasn’t actually in the wrong—or some such. It all gets lost in a veneer of vapid “Let’s break the law for the sake of justice!” tricks and I’m not even sure how it ends.

What’s frustrating about Outlaw is not its terrible writing or premise—mainstream television will always be mainstream television. No, what’s most frustrating is that Outlaw sets itself up to address serious and topical legal issues. Immigration, capital punishment, racial profiling—usually these topics are gently mentioned in the CSIs and Law & Orders of the world. Outlaw wants to deal with them head on, except it can’t escape from the tropes of bad character development and bad writing that doom almost everything that passes for network television.

The Event is an even larger shit show. The pilot is a chopped-up timeline: a plane is taken over by terrorists, a couple is going on a cruise, girlfriend’s mother is murdered and her younger sister kidnapped, some dude tries to chase down an airplane in an Escalade. The airplane in question, having been taken over by … the girlfriend’s father? … aims to nosedive into the President of the United States and his family while they’re hanging out in Florida.

And then—the event: the plane disappears out of thin air. For no reason. The Event.

Okay, what initially kept me from changing the channel after watching 10 or 15 minutes of this dreck was that there’s a Guantanamo-eque facility (in Alaska!) that President Martinez is trying to close. (The president isn’t white and he’s trying to close a top-secret detention facility. Something topical is afoot.) His top advisers are completely against this move, but their advice falls on deaf ears. Could this be a show that deals, honestly, with rendition and counter-terrorism?

No. The terrorists aren’t dark skinned foreigners. We only see their (supposed) leader: Dr. Kerry Weaver!

Who the hell knows what the hell The Event is trying to do—maybe a little Lost and 24 and…no, it’s just bad.

Lone Star follows a con man. He leads two lives with two different wives while scamming people out of their hard earned, Middle American dollars with his father as a partner. But he wants to change, Pop, he really wants to change. No, he’s still going to lead two lives with tow wives, he just doesn’t want to con anyone anymore. Or something.

Lone Star looks like a real television show when it cuts to scenes out in the oil fields of the Corn and Bible Belts. Hands are shaking, stalks are waving, camera angles are low and America stretches into an indefinite, Manifested Destiny. That’s about it, though. The show hopelessly caters to too many characters and plots all at once. Out of many, nothing.

Shows to watch while you do something else: The Good Guys (Sorry, Jimmy, your fictional campaign manager and chief of staff is the absolute winner of post-West Wing leading roles); The League (even if you don’t enjoy football or fantasy football, you’ll dig this); and House. And Modern Family, Community and Park and Recreation. You’re on your own with the rest.


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